By Zane Miller
As we last left off in the career of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, he had wrapped up a 1975 campaign which saw him finish inside the top-10 in the NFL in passing touchdowns on the way to the Steelers’ AFC Central title and second Super Bowl victory. In 1976, however, Bradshaw would be sidelined for nearly half of the regular season due to a neck injury. Although the Steelers still won the AFC Central yet again and Bradshaw returned in time for the playoffs, they would be held out of making their third straight Super Bowl by the Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders in the AFC Championship Game. 1977 would also end in disappointment, as Bradshaw and the Steelers wound up with a 9-5 record and lost in the first round to the Denver Broncos.
Given how the two most recent seasons ended up, it seemed as though the dominant Pittsburgh team which had recently won back-to-back titles might be beginning to run out of steam. However, in 1978, Bradshaw and the Steelers would prove that any doubters were sorely mistaken.
Bradshaw’s best game of the regular season came on December 9th at home against the Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts, throwing for three touchdowns and 240 yards to demolish the Colts 35-13. As the Steelers easily captured their fourth straight AFC Central crown with a 14-2 record, Bradshaw dominated with a league-leading 28 touchdown passes, three more than runners-up Fran Tarkenton of the Minnesota Vikings and Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys, while taking the ninth spot in passing yards with 2,915, 29 behind Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler. This showing enabled Bradshaw to win the regular season MVP award, to go along with a first-team All-Pro selection.
With Pittsburgh claiming a first-round bye, the team would stay at Three Rivers Stadium to take on the AFC West champion Broncos as their first playoff opponent on December 30th. Despite a fairly competitive first half which saw the Steelers holding a 19-10 lead at halftime, the vaunted Pittsburgh defense put an abrupt halt to any shot of a Denver comeback with a second half shutout. Meanwhile, Bradshaw added two long touchdown passes, finding wide receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann from 45 yards and 38 yards away respectively as the Steelers took the 33-10 victory. Bradshaw dominated with two touchdowns and 272 passing yards, while Broncos quarterback Norris Wease threw for just 118 yards in relief of regular starter Craig Morton, who had just 34 yards and no touchdowns before being benched.
On January 7th, 1979, the Steelers would stay at home to see the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) in the AFC Championship Game. Despite the contest being held in miserable freezing rain conditions, the Steelers would get out to a hot start with running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier each finding the end zone to make it 14-0 after the first quarter. Although the Oilers got the first points of the second quarter on a field goal, it would be all downhill from there for Houston with Pittsburgh scoring 17 unanswered points to go into halftime up 31-3, with the Steelers eventually collecting a Scorigami victory with a 34-5 triumph to reach the Super Bowl once again. Bradshaw had another solid performance with two touchdown passes and 200 passing yards, while Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini was held to just 96 yards through the air.
In Super Bowl XIII on January 15th, with the Dallas Cowboys also heading to Miami after their shutout NFC Championship Game victory over the Los Angeles Rams, Bradshaw and the Steelers would look to stop the Cowboys from getting back-to-back championships. It didn’t take long for Bradshaw to get the Steelers on the board, passing to Stallworth for the opening touchdown in the first quarter, the Cowboys responded with a touchdown pass of their own along with returning a fumble for a score to make it 14-7 in the second quarter.
Undeterred by the turnover, Bradshaw would set into motion one of the longest touchdown passes in Super Bowl history on the next drive, finding Stallworth once again on a short pass, who evaded multiple Cowboys defenders for a 75-yard touchdown. Later on, with just under 30 seconds remaining in the half, Bradshaw would strike again, this time getting the ball to Bleier out of the backfield to finally retake the lead for the Steelers as they took a 21-14 advantage into halftime.
In a defensive-dominated third quarter, Dallas chipped away with a short field goal which would be the only scoring play of the frame. However, in the fourth, Pittsburgh broke the game open as Harris ran for a 22-yard touchdown before a fumble forced on the ensuing kickoff by special teamer Tony Dungy (yes, that Tony Dungy) set up another quick touchdown pass by Bradshaw as he found Swann for an 18-yard score. Just like that, the Steelers were in control 35-17 with 6:51 to go in the game. While the Cowboys clawed their way back to within one possession, their valiant effort would run out of time as the Steelers claimed their third Super Bowl in franchise history 35-31.
Bradshaw had not only his best game of the season, but also one of the best games of his career, going off for an astounding four touchdown passes and 318 passing yards to earn his first Super Bowl MVP award. Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach also had an impressive performance with three touchdown passes and 228 yards, as Super Bowl XIII is still remembered as one of the best in league history. However, Bradshaw would not be done with the accolades just yet.